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Quarterly Message
The quarterly message is found at the beginning of the newsletter.

Sermon
August 5, 2018
July 29, 2018
July 22, 2018


August 5, 2018
By Rev. Linda McLaren
Based on What Happened on the Floor of General Council 1 and Psalm 5
Truth Telling God You Call to Us - Through Many Voices

“What message are we going to take back to our communities of faith about what happened at GC43?” Daniel Macdonald asked on the floor of General Council. Her question stopped General Council . . . held us suspended in the question.

One thing we know as a church, when we gather there is unpredictable presence that waits for us to pay attention. She challenges status quo . . . disrupts what is and sets us down paths we had not dared before; like the decision to ordain women in 1936, the apology to our indigenous siblings in 1986 or the big decision in 1988 – ordination and inclusion of all regardless of sexual orientation.

Seeking God, you would think we would come to expect her disruptive presence, come to know extraordinary things will happen. What will we tell of General Council 43?

In faithful discipleship commissioners spent the week in conversations about the church, about church structures, they tested new business models; they did what we sent them to do. After they had spent full days of listening and responding; just as they were thinking their work finished, a small voice in the midst of all asks for a point of privilege. The voice was small - the ask was big! “We need to respond to the report on racism” she said. His report had been offered earlier that session from Paul Douglas Walfall - one of the Intercultural Observer present at General Council.

Intercultural Observers are a relatively new idea in the church; their role is to help us pay attention to equity within church gatherings and provide the church with a report on how it is doing. They have no responsibility to vote at General Council. Theirs’s is the role to help us grow into the vision of the intercultural church that we believe in, the vision of the church that we proclaim as God’s vision – a church that proclaims all are welcome at Christ’s table. Their role helps us Risk Faith and Dare Hope.

Observers, because of the lens they offer, are appointed from minorities in the church. Paul is a black man who immigrated from Jamaica to Canada and serves now in the United Church. His report, while offered in loving relationship with the church, challenged our self-image of being a big happy inclusive and loving church. He talked about the difference between feeling like an invited guest or being a full respected participant at the table; suggesting that respect occurs not because of our generosity of heart but because there are gifts to be offered in and through full participation of all. He reminded us we are all called to be one, children of God, full participants in the family.

We are called to ACT he said – A C T – we begin by first acknowledge that racism exists – not just out there in the world – but within our own church. Ouch! His were hard truths to hear – Paul – we’re the welcoming church – remember – we’re radically different from the others. Imagining the problem is over there somewhere can keep us from seeing ourselves and so we must first acknowledge truth in order to c) confront it that we might then be t) transformed by it. ACT: Acknowledge – Confront – Transform. Paul’s words were being offered to the church for the church to help us see ourselves. His words were hard to hear and yet perhaps his words were even harder words to deliver. He had been asked to do a challenging job – to report to the church on the church! Yikes God, perhaps he thought – why do you ask this of me! They might not like what I need to say!

Yet God is a truth telling God. In our text from 2 Samuel Nathan is sent by God to speak truth to David – for “the thing that David has done displeased God” (2 Samuel 12.1) – this thing is David’s grievous abuse of his power in his rape of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah and his men on the battlefield. And God sends Nathan to open David’s eyes to the truth that must be told – to tell a truth that could cost Nathan his life – for David was king and had absolute power over Nathan. It must have taken great courage for Nathan to go to his King and speak the words that he must. Or perhaps it was his love for David and his love for God that gave him courage to do as God asked.

Sometimes there are Nathans sent among us to help us hear what we might otherwise not even recognize. Paul’s words felt like this – courageous words offered to help us be the church we want to be. Having offered his report, Paul was thanked by the church for his faithful witness and as he exited from view we moved on to the next point of business, marking intercultural report done. His powerful words listened to but not yet heard! Not yet acted upon.

As David realizes Nathan is speaking about him, David stands before his servant naked in his transgressions and he confesses “I have sinned against the Lord.” And perhaps this is why David is such a beloved character both then and now. He is so very real – beloved and chosen by God and yet also so broken. And in his brokenness he turns to God because it is here that David understands so fully the grace that God offers to us. David knows God’s steadfast love that is greater than his own iniquity. David asks God to purify him – ‘purge me with hyssop . . . wash me. . . create within me a clean heart” (Psalm 51: 7-10) – because David knows it takes more than words to change – that it takes intentionality of right relationship for there to be restored communion with God. Psalm 51 is David’s lament to God from the depth of his being, his soul’s response from the depth of his brokenness. In this Psalm, in David’s response, we are offered an understanding of response to the Nathan’s in our life that come offering difficult truths to be told and heard. Realities told to us not to weight us down in guilt and anger, but to build us up in loving union with God. David, confronted by Nathan, turns to God having no doubt of God’s capacity for steadfast love and mercy trusting fully in God’s willingness to make all things new again. David’s hope lies in God; as should ours.

It takes courage like David’s to listen and to recognize when it is important for stories to be told. Perhaps it was that same trust in God that moved the court to respond to the voice that asked the court to do more than just thank Paul for his report, but to engage in it – to ACT! And the church ACTed – ACTed in the act of quiet listening to difficult stories of racism and ‘othering’ that needed to be told – listened for two hours to truths that broke open hearts and truths that awakened discomfort of guilt and anger. And in the tension and uncertainty of how to respond to all that was shared there was a sense of a powerful presence, a sacredness that was being offered before the church, and the church gifted in her brokenness with a new hope. But why should we be surprized? Jesus walked among us sharing stories of the kingdom of God, reminding us of the vision of togetherness God imagined for all God’s children. And where there was brokenness Jesus spent time in relationship listening to people, helping them to hear their own story, helping them to hear God’s story, restoring those on the margins back into community. Why should we be surprized?

One thing we know as a church, when we gather there is unpredictable presence that waits for us to pay attention. She challenges status quo . . . disrupts what is and sets us down paths we had not dared before. Maybe the question God asks of us is not what people will say happened at General Council, given all that was shared and spoken, maybe the question God ask of us is how now will the church respond?

Confronted by Nathan of his brokenness, David turns to God praying “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” David offers to the church the witness of how we might respond – create in your church O God a right spirit and strengthen your church to be your holly loving spirit to and in the world – lead us from our places of transgressions to be wholy united in love.

Turning to God, may we pray to be restored in joy of God’s love for God’s people remembering:

“the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped . . . building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16) to be the church in the world for the world that God so dearly loves. And while we are one body in Christ; it is the richness of our unity in diversity through which we are strengthened. Indeed God, how now will your church respond!

Amen


Footnotes:
1 The report from Intercultural Observer Paul Douglas Walfall and stories offered to the church can be found in the Final Decision Session livestream on the 43rd General Council website.


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July 29, 2018
By Rev. Linda McLaren
Based on Ephesians 3: 14 – 21

How many of you watched the royal wedding a few weeks back? Did you listen to Bishop Curry’s words to the couple? His was an impassioned delivery of promise, not only to the couple, but for all of us. Reflecting on the words of the Song of Songs Bishop Curry reminded us of our deep connectedness to one another and to the presence of the Holy within us who invites us always into the fold of her love.

Bishop Curry’s words stirred within many a deep memory and present longing to know this deep love.

Love turned Bishop Curry’s words into impassioned and enlivened message for all to hear. And it’s with this passion that we are invited to hear these words from the letter to the Ephesians. They are the over the top expression of Paul’s word to the early church, the encouragement and the passion for the people to know God as Paul has, or rather Paul’s disciple. Most scholars recognize that this letter was most likely written after Paul’s death but is written in the spirit of Paul by those who knew and perhaps even journeyed with Paul. For ease, I will simple refer to the author as Paul.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine, if you can, Bishop Curry’s emblazed presence as Paul speaks his words; for Paul is so caught up in the love of God and the message of this love that like Bishop Curry he is impassioned in his delivery. Imagine Paul here at Saint Andrews, leaning over the pulpit, leaning to greet you with such passion he cannot contain his words, his whole presence is alight with hope for the church. Paul wants so fully for those listening to hear his words and to know this love. It’s such a rich passage that it demands both our mind and heart and our spirits to be present to the words, to truly receive its full blessing.

Paul begins in his rejoicing in the understanding that all are united through God’s love – both Jew and Gentile - for all are children of God. While this might not sound too radical to us today, for the followers of Jesus in that time this was a radical new idea. It’s like the equivalent of our interfaith dialogues today – for some it pushes beyond understood boundaries. Notice too that Paul speaks of the unity heaven and earth, suggesting connection through spirit. For us today, we speak of honouring the saints who go before us; recognizing their love and their presence with us in the mystery of love that never dies.

But this is impassioned Paul and he’s on bended knee – “I bow my knees” to pray ‘you may be strengthened in your inner being” so that Christ will dwell in your hearts as Christ dwells in mine. He prays not because he wants more bums in the pews but because he understands the power of this love . . . on bended knee he prays that his joy might be theirs too. He is impassioned beyond his own imagining and he knows it. And yet he cannot contain it . . . there are words to be shared . . . . words to be experienced . . . love to be made known.

“to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” There is a ‘taken up’ by love that goes beyond our cognition and is the experience of a mystery of love. The source of the love that Paul speaks of extends beyond what is humanly known of that sentimental concept of love – but is found in the mystery and wonder of this power of love – and having felt it we know it – it is the knowing of the known of our knowing – it’s this force of love that can bring us to bended knee in prayer of total surrender to its power. Do you remember when love felt like that – like you needed to stop whatever you were doing and just experience it – to trust the sacred essence of love that wanted to rise within you – into the expression of joy and laughter and bring that light in the eyes that dances just to be know. Do you remember? This is what Paul prays for.

Paul knows to live into the promise of the resurrection of Christ; into the kin-dom vision of God’s love for all of God’s people is beyond just our own abilities; we must be rooted and grounded in love. And here’s the good news – this is the grace that is already given – it is the grace that is found in the experience of loving because the source of our loving is from God. And so Paul prays “that Christ will live in your hearts through faith.” Then rooted in love our loving brings us closer to God, to our source of loving, and we might begin to know “love’s width and length, height and depth.” This loving takes us beyond the sentimentality of love into those hard places of our loving – loving when loving is hard – loving the stranger with the same compassion we love God and loving ourselves and one other as God loves us . . . “ I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.” This is a love beyond us yet within us. It is to ‘know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge.’ It is the knowing of the known of our knowing. Not head wisdom – its heart wisdom.

This is Paul’s prayer to us, his all-consuming joy of God’s love. But let us not be fooled that these are simple lovely words of encouragement. “There’s power in love. Do not underestimate it” Bishop Curry warned us. It will change us, if we let it. To invite Christ – this love that Paul speaks of into our heart – will ask a lot of us. Some of us may prefer Christ as just an occasional visitor: someone who shows up when it’s convenient and when we’re ready for the visit. Maybe this is most of us some of the time or some of us most of the time! Or perhaps we treat Christ like a visitor who has stayed just a bit too long and we secretly wish him gone so we can go back to the way things were. But Christ’s love is not to be contained. Christ’s love, God’s love will change us. Invite us to do and say things that might make people around us feel a bit uncomfortable because when we love with God we begin to see the world through God’s eyes and we can no longer be the same. And this love brings Paul to his knees for us. Took Christ to the cross for us!

Paul prays we might greet Christ in us to know the passion and fire of love and to be changed by loves presence; sometimes slowly, sometimes awkwardly, sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes even delightfully. Christ is the visitor that transforms us. This is our good news.

As we centered ourselves for worship we listened to a similar prayer in the offer of the hymn;

The writer prays for God’s abiding presence . . . not just a holiday visitor but a life time presence of hope and strength – because we are called to be the church – to be disciples in the world – the hands and feet and heart of love to our friends, to our neighbours and to those we don’t yet know. This is what it means to be the church – sharing the love gifted within us with one another – the church is not the building the church is the body of all.

This is Paul’s prayer to us. Be the church! And it seems a fitting message for us today.

As I began to prepare worship for this Sunday it struck me that after today we have only two more Sunday’s together. Our last service together is August 12th. When I made my announcement back in June, that date seemed a time away, a point in a future to come. That future time is now and so we begin the hard work of letting go of that which we have known that we might begin to get ready for the new future that God is preparing for us even now. And even while God is inviting both you and I into this new future, God is also inviting us into the hard work of preparing for this time. Welcoming the new asks of us to let go of what was. We need only consider the work of General Council and we know this to be true. All week they have wrestled with letting go of things that block us from doing the ministry we are called into, asking the hard questions how do we make sure God is not simply a visitor among us but that we are “rooted and grounded in love . . . so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God” to go out into the world to be the disciples of this love.

Moving into a future not yet known can feel disorientating and uncertain. We might want to go back to what was certain we don’t have what it takes for the journey we are invited into. But here is the good news, in these words of the disciple of Paul we are given the promise of who are . . . children of God, loved beyond measure and in this love strengthened to be all that we might be. In this identity, we can find faith in the promise of the now- not yet vision of the future to be the church – the body of God’s love in the world.

And so we close in gratitude with the doxology that Paul prays, saying;

Amen


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July 22, 2018
By Rev. Miriam Spies
You Feed Them!
Based on Mark 6:6b-13, 30-44

(I have cerebral palsy and it can be challenging to understand my speech so the text is provided as needed. I invite you to listen.)

The beginning of my call to ministry happened when I traveled to Palestine with the church nearly 10 years ago. The partners we visited, the people we met showed me how crucial hope is to life. They do not have the luxury of despair. To live in that land, surrounded by walls and checkpoints, while holding onto the keys to the homes before 1948, is to hope.

“Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.”

In the World Council of Churches, where folks gather from all over God’s broken and beautiful world, I witness that life-giving hope. From the Pacific where people are sounding the alarm of rising waters and loss of sea life, to the Middle East where Christians are being persecuted for what they believe, to Europe where migrants are arriving seeking refuge, people of faith dare to hope for God’s coming kingdom. A faith that risks and a hope that dares a new world.

“Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.”

30 years ago, the year I was born, our United Church of Canada decided to ordain and commission openly gay and lesbian ministers. We began a daring pilgrimage that continues. At a time when the scientific world and popular culture was largely homophobic, we affirmed that all baptized people are beloved children and servants of God, not regardless of sexual orientation, but celebrating the beauty of our diversity, welcoming people to offer their gifts, our gifts.

“Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.”

A pilgrimage of faith, a pilgrimage that risks hope, a pilgrimage that seeks justice and peace – that is what Jesus called the first disciples to join. Jesus dared to send them out with all that they needed: authority to heal, sandals, a staff, and someone to accompany them. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus sent out disciples, knowing God’s mission in the world takes time and takes community. He told them to accept hospitality wherever they found it, to be fed by their hosts, and in return, to share the good news of God’s kingdom. Evangelism was not about maintenance or survival; their pilgrimage was about taking risks for the sake of the gospel.

“Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.”

After being away on pilgrimage, the disciples came home to Jesus to share stories, to rest, to be apart with their teacher. They were excited by what God had done through them and they were tired. Jesus was too. After receiving hospitality along their travels, they just wanted to be led by still waters. Then the disciples saw the crowds, and thought, “Oh no, not now!” Yet, Mark tells us, Jesus had compassion for the crowd of thousands, something in his gut churned and he knew that he was needed for the world, and not only for his small group of disciples. However, his friends weren’t too keen. They could only imagine one way this could work out. They had neither food nor money enough to provide. “Send them away,” they told Jesus. Jesus didn’t let them off the hook but gave them yet another mission: “No, you do it, you feed them.”

This is a pilgrimage that takes risks in faith and dares to hope with compassion in God’s world.

With two fish and five loaves, Jesus, the good shepherd, sits down on the green grass, and all ate and all were filled. As in the time of Moses when manna came from heaven, as in the time when Jesus and the disciples sat around a table, as in the promised time where all will feast at God’s banquet, there will not just be enough. There will be an abundance. Provisions are given, thanks are offered, bread is shared and all are fed.

This is a pilgrimage that takes risks in faith and dares to hope with compassion in God’s world.

As proud as I am to be part of our United Church, as honoured and privileged as I feel to share good news with you today as we gather on our pilgrimage, I worry. I worry that we congratulate ourselves for being more committed to justice, more committed to valuing all peoples and encouraging intercultural communities, than our denominational neighbours down the road. I worry that we are quick to say, “Oh yes, Jesus, we’ll feed them,” but then don’t accept the gifts the “hungry”, those on the margins, bring to the feast. I worry that we say we seek right relations with indigenous peoples yet try to water down our responsibilities. I worry that we use people to show how diverse we are, but then ignore their struggles of daily service. I worry that we keep a tight grip on “our resources” without realizing or celebrating that all we have was first shared by God. I worry that we would tell Jesus to “send them away” because we feel we are not enough. And I worry that, in midst of changing structures and seeking to do church “differently”, we forget that we are not alone. We forget that we have gifts to offer but we don’t have everything and we need companions on this pilgrimage. We forget that structures are not our mission but are here to enable our mission for this time and place. We forget that we are the ones to feed and share with each other. We forget that we are called to take risks in faith and dare to hope with compassion in God’s world.

And yet, my worries, my struggles, dissipate when I am invited into the upper room with Jesus and the disciples. In my favourite gospel, John, Jesus takes off his garment, wraps a towel at his waist, pours water into a basin, and washes his dear disciples’ feet. Jesus shows us how to act with humility and vulnerability, in service and love. My worries dissipate when Jesus hosts his dear disciples at table, when he blesses, breaks and gives bread; blesses, pours, and gives wine, with humility and vulnerability, in service and love. The church, we dear disciples in the world, does not have the luxury of despair – our hope, throughout time and today, remains steadfast in Jesus Christ, our servant shepherd. Along this pilgrimage where we are called to take risks in faith and dare to hope, we are washed, fed, and renewed with the life of Jesus by the grace of God. Along this pilgrimage, as we encounter others, Jesus calls to us: “You feed them, feed them with compassion and hope.”

Amen.


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